The Town of Chapel Hill added green paint and vertical barriers to select bike lanes during the week of Sept. 12 to Sept. 19.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation resurfaced West Franklin Street and changed the street’s utility with designs provided by the Town. With the help of a contractor, NCDOT added a bike lane to the street.
A bike lane was also added to East Main Street, which effectively connected downtown Carrboro to Chapel Hill via a bike route.
Sarah Poulton, the Town of Chapel Hill's downtown special projects manager, described last week's work as the "icing on the cake" of a larger process.
The paint and vertical poles, which are called "bollards," were implementations the Town decided to put in, Poulton said. She added the features go "above and beyond" the typical safety measures required by NCDOT.
Intersections between South Merritt Mill Road and Church Street now have dashed green lanes denoted for bike lane users. Solid green bike boxes will also be added in front of car traffic at some intersections, in addition to bollards to more thoroughly define the bike lanes.
“The Town of Chapel Hill and the Town of Carrboro decided that we wanted kind of an enhanced level of paint and vertical bollards on the streets in order to make the new bike lane as safe as possible," Poulton said.
Downtown bike accessibility was outlined as a goal in Chapel Hill’s Mobility and Connectivity Plan in 2017, before being updated to include lane reallocation in the fall of 2020. Additional pushes for bike lane integration into Chapel Hill’s downtown came from a petition from the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said Poulton.
According to data from the Chapel Hill Police Department, 2022 has already had the highest number of bike crashes in the past five years. So far, 16 crashes have occurred in Chapel Hill, not including crashes reported on UNC’s campus.
The portion of West Franklin Street undergoing bike lane construction this month has been the site of seven reported bicycle crashes since 2017. Two crashes occurred this year.
Bicyclist Nicholas Watson was killed in an accident that occurred last January on West Franklin Street when a parked driver opened a car door in his path.
From 2017 to 2022, streets in the downtown area of Chapel Hill, including Rosemary Street, Columbia Street, West Cameron Avenue and Franklin Street, accounted for 27 of the town’s 73 reported bicycle accidents. This area has a higher density of crashes compared to other areas of Chapel Hill.
Other streets with high numbers of accidents outside of the downtown area include Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Raleigh Road and further down East Franklin Street.
Brian Van Cleave, a sales associate with Trek Bicycle Chapel Hill, said progress in bike safety is improving, but the Town still has a way to go.
“It makes a huge impact because with those additions, it just makes it so that we're not running into the current issues that we are right now,” Van Cleave said.
He said he has seen delivery trucks and other vehicles parked in the bike lanes and thinks having upgraded safety features is going to be crucial.
Bergen Watterson, transportation planning manager for the Town of Chapel Hill, said multi-modal transportation has been a priority for a number of reasons. Providing accessible and environmentally conscious forms of transportation are two major factors, she said.
“Not everybody can or wants to drive a car and they have just as much right to get around town safely as people in cars do,” Waterson said.
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